Antero Resources Corp. plans to push ahead with more than a dozen drilling rigs in the Appalachian Basin this year, but while it plans to grow year-over-year production by 40% it will cut spending and delay the completion of about 50 wells until 2016.
"We wanted to maintain optionality around accelerating the development program if prices improve, so we'll continue to run the most active program in Appalachia with an average of 14 rigs drilling about 180 wells during the year, while only completing 130 of these wells," said CFO Glenn Warren during a conference call with analysts on Thursday to discuss fourth quarter earnings. "This will provide us with a substantial inventory of wells that can be completed in 2016 should prices improve."
In January, the company said it would reduce its 2015 budget by $1.25 billion from 2014 to $1.8 billion (see Shale Daily, Jan. 21). At the end of last year, Antero was running 21 rigs and it completed 179 Marcellus and Utica Shale wells. The 50 deferrals will come in the Marcellus Shale, where each well in the play has averaged 30-day production rates of a little more than 13 MMcfe/d.
"If we decide to complete those wells in addition to our traditional activity, we could bring on almost 400 MMcfe/d in gross wellhead production in a matter of months, and this is from the 50 wells that we've deferred into 2016," Warren said.
Antero produced more than 1 Bcfe/d last year, up 93% from 2013. In the fourth quarter the company reported about 1.2 Bcfe/d of production, an 87% increase from the 678 MMcfe/d it produced in 4Q2013 and a 17% increase from the prior quarter.
Most of its production came from the Marcellus Shale in West Virginia, where it put 136 new wells into sales. It also turned inline 41 new Utica wells last year. The company will run seven rigs in the Marcellus and seven rigs in the Utica this year. CEO Paul Rady said the focus will continue to be on liquids production.
"We have quite a good handle on the dry gas in the Marcellus. We've drilled quite a lot of wells there, more than 150 on the dry gas side," he said. "They're very good [estimated ultimate recoveries] per lateral foot, but they're just not as strong as the ones that give us the liquids-rich premium."
Rady said that although nearby operators in West Virginia continue to report solid results from drier Utica Shale wells, Antero will delay any significant development in the formation until it has more gathering and firm transportation in place.
"Right now, the takeaway on deep dry gas is not favorable, but by the end of 2016 to mid-2017, the Rover comes on and that goes right through our deep Utica gas fairway," Rady said of Energy Transfer Partners LP Rover Pipeline, which will deliver Appalachian natural gas to multiple markets (see Shale Daily,June 26, 2014). "I think probably between now and then our focus will stay on the rich gas."
Rady also said service costs have come down about 10% for the company. Shorter stage lengths, fewer drilling days and increased lateral lengths will help keep pushing production up this year. The company is also testing 500 and 750 foot downspacing in its Utica acreage, but Rady said Antero will continue with 1,000-foot downspacing until more conclusive data can be gathered.
Antero also remains heavily focused on extending its reach into premium markets. Management said Thursday that it will have 4 Bcf/d in firm transportation secured by 2018, about 2 Bcf/d of which will head toward the Gulf Coast.
Average realized natural gas prices, including hedges, were $4.52/Mcf last year, down 6% from 2013, while realized oil prices were $84.66/bbl, down 15% over the same period. Antero said it currently has about 94% of its 2015 production hedged.
Management also said it could look to consolidate its acreage position in the basin this year, especially if commodity prices remain low and put a squeeze on other nearby operators that could release some leases or look to sell assets.
"Those opportunities are certainly out there. We have an active land machine and so we look at things all the time," Rady said. "There are bite-sized things that we're always doing that are probably not significant enough to mention. But there's plenty of discussion about takeouts of smaller players -- the smaller independents -- where we'll lease their deep rights or take them out entirely. We really don't have anything on the planning horizon that we're going to jump on. We all know we're only 12 weeks into the big commodities downcycle, so there's time and we'll be patient."
Antero also wrote down $15 million of its unproven properties in the Northeast, $7 million of which it wrote down in the fourth quarter on falling oil and gas prices. Fourth quarter revenue was up to $1.5 billion from $480 million in the year-ago period. Full year revenue also increased to $2.7 billion, compared to $1.3 billion in 2013.
The company reported fourth quarter net income of $607 million ($2.32/share), up from a net loss of $225 million (minus 86 cents/share) at the same time last year. Full year net income increased to $671 million ($2.56/share) from a net loss of $24 million (minus 9 cents/share) in 2013.